I’m (almost) glad for all that blatantly anti-Semitic hatemail

Over my career as a public commentator, I have always gotten the occasional anti-Semitic email. That was particularly if I wrote about abortion, (rarely) Israel, or some other hot-button issue. When the Journolist scandal broke, I got an especially high volume of hate-mail that focused on my name, appearance, and heritage. Of course I often get rough messages from people who disagree with me in the thrust and parry of presidential politics and the politics of health reform.It wasn’t always pleasant. It comes with the territory.

None of this prepared me for 2016.

I and many others who write for fairly broad audiences are being deluged with antisemitic messages from Trump supporters. They come mostly on Twitter, but on private emails and blogs, too. Many alt-right messages bracket our names like so: (((haroldpollack))), to indicate that we are Jewish. A message from this morning is one of the milder and more printable ones:


I’ve lost count of such missives, and many worse ones. Many include four-letter words and colorful vocabulary that is quite familiar to me from my experience working on public health interventions for high-risk adolescents and adults. I block everyone who sends me these messages. For all I know, there are hundreds more.

Then there was the long rambling email that recently landed in my box, whose highlights include:

….The 1960s feminism were led by jewish Marxists (Betty Freidan, mentally ill Gloria Steinem). Porn and the sexual revolution and anti-American propaganda came directly from the jews in Hollywood and media….

Every single detrimental social movement in the US came from utopian jewish Marxists.

Joe McCarthy and the House Unamerican Committee was absolutely correct. Most of the jewish community should have been shot or imprisoned…


I don’t generally share such missives. Why give hateful and sick people a larger platform? Besides, every commentator with a vaguely Jewish-sounding name is getting the same stuff. This isn’t exactly newsworthy. Yet if you’re not in the public eye, you should know this is going on.

In a strange way, I’m almost–almost–glad that these anti-Semitic messages are out there. They remind many of us on the receiving end of a few basic realities that hang over our contested, pluralist democracy. They should remind us of what many others are facing, who have so very much more to lose if our nation jumps off the political cliff this November.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect, tnr.com, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

13 thoughts on “I’m (almost) glad for all that blatantly anti-Semitic hatemail”

    1. Yes, that was pretty remarkable. Maybe it's just me, but I think this passage from Hannah Arendt's Totalitarianism shows a scary parallel too: "The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they knew all along that the statement was a lie and admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness."

      1. "take refuge in cynicism"
        This is a really interesting bit, and so often true. What is it about this behavior, though that allows for self-indulgent fantasy? I'm reminded of the drunk, uninhibited by alcohol, who says such mean and destructive things. In sober times, he is held in check by other obligations.

        This also occurs when one is taken by anger. Only later, when the passion has subsided, does one realize the damage they have wrought.

        In both cases the individual feels compelled in the moment, driven by the satisfaction of causing pain, or self-aggrandizement, or maybe of gaining retribution.

        I was reading the comments at Breitbart yesterday and a fitting description of the mood might indeed be "drunken anger".

  1. While Mein Trumpf and Steve King are wishing Geert Wilder all the best in his campaign. First they came for the veils. Then they came for the yarmulkes. How did we go so far down this road?

    1. The "we" does you credit but is of course not accurate. It's they, not you, even if "they" are (I assume) your fellow-citizens, just as the racist component of the Brexiteers are mine.

      How? Enough virtual ink has been digitally spilled on this. The strictly economic case seems weak, as ethnonationalism is stronger in prosperous Belgium, the Netherlands, England, and the USA than in Spain. If there is a common economic factor, it's the rise in economic insecurity more than economic loss. FWIW I suggest you need both that and the cultural pathologies ably exploited by Donald Trump.

      Will he fail badly enough to discredit his message? A lot hangs on Harold's prediction that Trump wil not only fail but be disgraced. I am a bit of a Pollyanna (my prediction that Clinton's lead would be secure by now was wrong), and find hope in his even more erratic behaviour since he lost the first debate. Doubling down on his attacks on Alicia Machado – a Latina working woman, an immigrant, successful and attractive – is crazy politics. Florida! Raising Bill Clinton's infidelities sets him up for another brutal takedown in the next debate. Attacking the media is never a good idea. It must be his wounded ego. This just may be the beginning of the downward spiral of the bad loser.

      1. Bringing up Bill Clinton in the next debate could set up Hillary to say something like, "Well, there have been some serious strains on my marriage, but I took a vow to remain with my one and only husband until death did us part. This is what you do when your word is your bond." It would be best if she could leave it at that and allow the audience to fill in what is best left unsaid.

      2. Anyone who gets a disturbing score on the implicit association test can be put in the "we" category, and that would be most of us. It's a continuum.

        As for anti-Semitism, I figured it to be the closest-to-dead of all the still existing ethnic prejudices, at least in the US. Pretty disturbing that these idiots aren't ashamed to show their faces.

  2. I find this amazing, because, although I am 67 years old and my last name is "Cohen," I have never encountered anti-Semitism of which I'm aware. Perhaps I have lived a sheltered life, having grown up in New York City and spent my adult life in Maryland cities.

  3. I'm glad you aren't letting it bother you too much, but I hope you aren't actually reading all that poison. The Internet makes it easy to behave badly… still, these people are a tiny minority. Or at least, I have not seen evidence that they are a big chunk of the population.

    1. A tiny minority of 320 million people may still be a lot of people.

      And I will guess that overt expressions of anti-Semitism are much, much, less common than similar expressions of anti-black or anti-Hispanic racism. So if the anti-Semites are emboldened by Trump, there are further reasons for concern.

      1. In my limited experience in the Twitter sewer of the alt-right, conspiracy theories about Jews and for example immigration are pretty popular.

        Some older racists like Jared Taylor (American Renaissance) have tried to avoid anti-semitism and don't want the taint of being a Neo-Nazi, but the newer crop of white "nationalists" (really supremacists) seem to take to it.

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